It’s a fact we’ve learned to regurgitate; in the year 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified. It prohibited any United States citizen from being denied the right to vote on account of their gender. It's been hailed as the one of the greatest, if the not the greatest achievement for our country's women's rights movement.
What we don’t hear, is that two years after this amendment was passed, the Supreme Court ruled people of Japanese heritage were ineligible to become naturalized citizens -- a court found the same with Asian Indians in the following year. Not being able to become naturalized citizens, of course, affected what demographic of women could actually vote. In 1924, Native Americans were granted citizenship through the Indian Citizenship Act, but many states still passed laws preventing Native Americans from voting, for as late as the year 1957.
It wasn’t until 1943 that Chinese Americans were first permitted to become citizens, after the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed. For Filipinos, it wasn’t until 1946; for Japanese Americans and other Asian Americans, this did not come until 1952. In 1964, women of lower socio-economic status were faced with one less barrier to voting; there was now no tax to pay anywhere in the country in order to vote.
In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed abolishing legal barriers that prevented black Americans from voting. In 1990, polling centers were required to have accommodations for Americans with disabilities with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the year 2000, a federal court decided US Territories could not vote in presidential elections. The fight for Voting Rights across the country is still a struggle; in this month, alone, a federal appeals court struck down a voter ID law in North Carolina that was described as targeting African American voters "with almost surgical precision."
Why is it, then, that we accept the 19th Amendment as being the point when women were allowed the right to vote? It's presented in our history classes, our media, etc., as if the struggle to get women to vote ended with the passing of this amendment to the Constitution, which is simply not true. To state so would be to exclude essentially all women of color, among white women who couldn't afford to pay a poll tax.
Some could argue there’s exceptions to every fact and law in our history, but it’s not as if one specific group of women were an exception to this. Asian women, Native American women, black women, poor women and more were unable to exercise their right to vote, and their struggles have been arguably erased in the acceptation of the 19th Amendment being the point in which all women could vote.
When we use the word women, we assume it applies to women of every race and ethnicity; instead, it’s been reduced to mean only white women. When we say women earned the right to vote in 1920, we're whitewashing history. To be fair, we have no reason to not pause and think if this is a whitewashing of history, because of the pure lack of information on voting rights of marginalized and minority groups in our country.
Often, high school American history classes have been dubbed as being a history of "great white men." It's not hard to picture the only real segment of women's history taught in most history classes really only applies to that of "great white women." It shouldn’t be surprising that we’ve been conditioned to accept the notion that saying women got the right to vote in 1920 as appropriate, because of how our history is often taught to us.
Recently, with the recognition of white feminism becoming slowly more prevalent in our country's society, it’s important for us as a people to not portray women’s struggles as merely white women’s struggles. It's more than frustrating to see our politicians, socially-conscious celebrities, and other prominent figures speak as if the 19th Amendment was the end of women's struggle for voting rights. It's easy to accept the erasing of the history. After all, most people were taught a history that erased struggles of marginalized groups. It’s harder to try to write history back into a place it deserves to be. Women worked hard for the 19th Amendment to be ratified. It's time to recognize women that also worked hard for their own voting struggles, long after the 19th Amendment was ratified.